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How Do You Quantify Experiential Moments?

Author(s): Scott Frickson
Posted: January 20, 2009

As a leader here at Drug Demand Reduction I am constantly being asked to validate our educational programs. As a prior fiscal officer I am knowledgeable of the ties our spreadsheets and numbers have that show the effectiveness of our programs on our Federal budget. We are constantly struggling to document and show on a spreadsheet what the impact is of an “Ah Ha” moment. I can give a 6 hour briefing with power point slides and statistics and all sorts of fancy spreadsheets and I have done just that with very little effectiveness. I know that there are many highly educated and experienced professionals that are members here at the Outdoor Ed community. Our staff and I are always in “sponge” mode when we have the opportunity to work with professionals in the field where we are currently employed. It was not always that way. My first training at High 5 was my “Ah Ha” moment. I came to High 5 with a closed mind and a poor attitude. There was just no way as an Aviator and Federal Officer I was going to run around chasing a rubber chicken. My direction to staff before we went to training was, “we are here to learn how to climb we are not going to do any of the Kumbya crap.”

By the end of the second day and this is going to sound just ridiculous’ my “epiphany” happened for me when I was chasing a rubber chicken! Now one of my life mottos is “You can learn a lot from a rubber chicken”, the power of that moment is still with me. Facilitation to me is an art and one of the most powerful teaching tools one can practice. I don’t know if there is an effective way to verbalize the impact and the life changing effects moments like those can have on a person, if there is I have not found it. I can tell you that we have seen first hand the power of our E3 camp and the life altering impact these moments have had on our students lives. E3 stands for Encourage, Encounter, and Experience. Experience being the end goal where a person can take away something that they can use for a lifetime. If I had to put a number on how many of these moments we have had this last fiscal year it would be ten. Ten out of the 385 participants may not seem like an effective program but the moments I am talking about were life changing and when they happen it is pure magic. All of the participants came away with greater communication skills, team building skills and we have never had a participant that did not have a wonderful learning experience. Our end goal is to try and facilitate the “Ah Ha” moments when ever we can as I believe that is the most powerful long lasting positive educational experience we can be a part of. I say be a part of because in my humble opinion we are only the facilitator that can help create this experience we are not the experience. The moments that I have helped facilitate have all been extremely personal and to be a part of these moments is not only an honor but they also have made me a better, leader, mentor and facilitator.

One event happened last year on our ropes course. The student that was involved was female from a rural community and was on the verge of being kicked out of the Alaska Military Youth Academy. In the words of her academy instructor she was not going to make it through the coming week. Her attitude and combativeness to fellow cadets and Cadre had burned every bridge possible and was on short-notice to being showed the exit door.

A key element in setting up these Ah Ha moments is observation on the part of the facilitator. I noticed a “hard” personality in one of the AMYA cadets, her obvious distrust and huge area of personal space was an indicator that I had to be very careful in leading her to a “eureka” moment. The potential for reinforcing her “walls” was much greater then having a moment where they came down and allowed her to grow as a person. Her personal space had such a large radius I had a fellow female cadet assist in all activities that involved a harness as being 2 feet from her was too close and resulted in aggressive posturing and attitude.

After several hours of trust building activities and reflection I determined it was time for her to have a one on one activity with me. The look in her eyes was one of fear, anger and distrust. I let her know that I was there for her and just trying the element was success. The point of the activity was not getting to the end of the “space loops” element. The real point of the activity we don’t share with the participant. We want them to have that “Ah Ha” moment and if facilitated right sometimes it happens and when it does it is beautiful thing. She figured it out! She was so scared and it took a long time for her to finish the event and she did complete the whole element 30 feet up in the air. It was time to have 1 on 1 reflection time away from her peers and I could tell from the look on her face something dramatic had happened. (It is so critical to capture these moments) I asked her, how she felt and what did she think, she looked at me and said she was so scared and she could not believe what she had done, I dug deeper and asked, was it being 30 feet in the air, was she proud of completing the element because she was already successful just attempting it. No she said she was scared of trusting, scared of trusting me and she was proud that she had allowed herself to do so. As the tears welled up in her eyes she thanked me and said she did not trust people and had every reason not too. Her lip quivered and she said she thought she might be able to start trusting people again. I gave her an affirming nod and then there was a silent pause. As I was fighting back the tears I put my hand on her shoulder and said be proud you got it! You got what this training is all about. You figured out what many people never do. It’s not hanging 30 feet up in the air or going down a zip line it is these moments and these “eureka’s” that is the real value of this training.

One of the most challenging tasks we have to do is capturing these moments on a spread sheet. Putting a number value to an event like that is difficult. It is an important task for us to document these programs as National Guard Bureau senior leaders’ measure effectiveness with spreadsheets. Even in the civilian world with no child left behind and virtually all academic programs if you want to secure funding you had better have a spreadsheet that can validate your program. I don’t have that “magic” number yet that can show the long term benefits of our training. I can tell you that Cadet went from being on the verge of being kicked out of the academy to graduating as most improved Cadet for the entire graduating class. Her “eureka” moment on that course she will remember for a lifetime. For those that have never had a “eureka” moment where you found your faith in yourself or faith in something much greater then yourself, well it is almost impossible to describe to them the power of those moments and how they can change lives. I will continue to try and document these programs with a number and relish the victories that students like these give us. That is what makes our program so amazing the power of change that these moments create. One of my favorite quotes I use with our staff comes from Mr. Jim Grout at High Five“When in doubt, give them your heart.You cannot fake this training as a facilitator you have to understand where these moments come from, encourage them, embrace them and share them to build a powerful, sustainable education program.

We look forward to all of the opportunities we may have in the coming years learning and sharing experiences with the professionals of this industry. 

Sincerely Scott D Frickson
Army National Guard Drug Demand Reduction

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